The Emmys are the ultimate insider's club. Once you're in, you're in. If you aren't, well, you'd better bide your time until a spot opens.
Although there were some surprises in nominations for tonight's prime-time Emmys -- 10 nominations each for HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Fox's "24," 11 for ABC's "Alias" (despite an omission as drama series) -- familiarity remains the operative observation. As "Friends," "Will & Grace," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under" and "The West Wing" continue to dominate the ballot, newer quality series such as "Scrubs," "The Bernie Mac Show," "Smallville," "Everwood" and "Boomtown" are all but absent (or are nominated in minor categories). Overlooked veterans, including "King of Queens," "Ed," "Gilmore Girls" and "Boston Public," continue to be ignored. The Emmy voters even missed their last chance to honor the now-defunct "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."
"The Emmy voters are like a fraternity," says Bill Lawrence, creator and executive producer of NBC's "Scrubs," who was hoping more nominations (it received two) would give the sitcom the necessary push to move out of the shadows of lead-in "Friends." "When you're in, you're in. When you're not it could take years to break in."
It's nothing personal, says John Leverence, vice president, awards, for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. "Instead of looking at the body of work that season, the life of the show often takes precedence in the nominations, which is why most quality freshman series fail to be acknowledged initially," Leverence says. Because there are usually only five nominees per category, "familiarity often leads to continued recognition," he adds.
Unlike other awards, where the competition changes every year (the Academy Awards, Grammys and Tonys, in particular), the Emmys are framed by the ongoing presence of established series. New is not necessarily better, but shows with sizable audiences and strong reviews often aren't noticed by Emmy voters. In some cases, it gets even harder once an ignored show has been on a season or two; the heat and promotional efforts have shifted to newer shows, often just at the point when the veteran show is hitting its creative stride.
Others just may not be hip enough. Shows such as the comedy "King of Queens" and the drama "7th Heaven" are favorites of the broad television audience but maybe not with the more select audience that votes.
"In the Emmy voters' eyes, we're not as sexy or upscale as 'Friends,' 'Will & Grace' and 'Sex and the City,' says Michael Whitehorn, the creator and executive producer of "King of Queens." "And while we're grateful to CBS for their support, we were always promoted more as part of the network's Monday lineup rather than as an individual series. Promotion is a key element in any Emmy campaign."
"Initially when I wasn't nominated I was disappointed for myself," says Leah Remini, who co-stars on "King of Queens." "But now, after five years, I would really like to see Kevin [James], the writers, the producers -- anyone from the series -- be nominated. It's like wanting to see your child get recognition."
"I think '7th Heaven' and shows that are perceived as feel-good or family-driven are ignored by the Emmys because our job is to make what we do look natural and effortless," says Stephen Collins, star of the WB's "7th Heaven." "A hard-hitting, edgy drama with greater highs and lows emotionally is easier for voters to recognize."
Some people connected with newer shows aren't always so forgiving.
"Considering we only got three nominations, that obviously says something about the voting procedure," says Jonathan Price, creator and executive producer of NBC's "American Dreams," often mentioned as one of the quality shows debuting last season. "Family dramas at 8 p.m. seem to have a more difficult time getting recognized."
"The Waltons," in fact, is the last 8 p.m. family-oriented drama to win the Emmy in the category of outstanding drama.
Emmy as life saver
Although "King of Queens," "7th Heaven" and "Scrubs" have not suffered from a lack of Emmy recognition, winning the coveted statuette is sometimes synonymous with the survival of a series.
" 'All in the Family' and 'Hill Street Blues' always come to mind when I think of shows that were helped, or perhaps saved, by the Emmys," says Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research at Lifetime Television and co-author of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time and Cable TV Shows." "Both shows were struggling, and both picked up new viewers after the awards were handed out."